The North Shore is not where Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays wants you to go. In fact, the bustle of Honolulu’s never-ending shopping districts, theme restaurants, and strip clubs is in razor-sharp contrast with the small-town feel of the Haleiwa (the North Shore’s main one-road town) and the seven-or-so miles of beachfront that extends in almost a straight line northeast along the Kam Highway.
The North Shore of O’ahu is a living contradiction. Lush, warm, and sweaty humid, it’s composed primarily of a two-lane road flanked by mud-encrusted pickup trucks, roadside coconut vendors, small churches decorated with big paintings of Jesus, weather-worn one-story homes, elementary schools, and the occasional wild chicken chasing its lunch. Few municipalities in the United States Of America rival its true small-town feel. But the North Shore shouldn’t be judged by its cover, for beneath its borderline impoverished exterior, hidden from the Kam Highway by endless thickets of dense tropical foliage and unoccupied vacation homes, you’ll find the center of surfing’s universe-more than a dozen surf spots whose names are as familiar to surfers the world over as their own.
The first time you drive that seven-mile stretch with someone who knows the surroundings, it’s hard to believe what you’re hearing. “That’s Waimea, there’s Rock Piles, here’s Pipeline, and we’re about to pass Sunset.” Most first-timers are shocked by the compactness of “The Shore” and the lack of massive parking lots and/or neon signs screaming Best Surf Spot In The World … Here, but the surprise doesn’t end there. From the buoyancy and clarity of the water to the ferocity of the crowds and the shallowness of the reefs to the speed of the currents and the sheer power of the surf, Hawai’i stands alone.Sitting in the lineup, you feel part of a bigger picture. Your heart pounds, the smallness of the surrounding community drops away, and you’re left with the feeling that you’re connected to something far greater than any steel-and-glass metropolis or clamoring population center. You are in direct contact with the side of nature people who climb Mount Everest or sail the North Atlantic are familiar with. And as you duck-dive under mountains of water, the perception of the North Shore as a small place quickly fades into a sort of fear-inspired awe.This month we’ve dedicated a huge chunk of our magazine to slower side of the world’s most traveled-to island. The result is 22-page North Shore Guide, which begins on page XX of this month’s issue, which we are dedicating to the residents of the North Shore of Hawai’i, who let an army of surfers, photographers, and hack journalists invade their small town whenever the surf gets good.-Joel